THE PRINCIPAL at Montgomery County’s Damascus High School had just been informed about the alleged sexual assault of a junior-varsity football player earlier that day in the school’s locker room. Among the disturbing details shared in the group text was the allegation that teammates had forcibly yanked the teen’s pants down and assaulted him with a broomstick. Principal Casey Crouse’s response was not “Call the police immediately,” or “How is the boy?” Instead, the question she posed was “What is the football consequence?”
The principal’s misplaced priorities are just one troubling aspect of how school officials responded to the Oct. 31, 2018, incident in which four teenage members of the junior-varsity team were attacked, seemingly as part of a hazing tradition described as “brooming.” A damning account by The Post’s Dan Morse and Donna St. George revealed that officials waited more than 12 hours before notifying police, during which time they undertook their own inquiry and questioned both victims and assailants. Ms. Crouse and other officials involved declined interview requests from the Post reporters.
Montgomery schools operate under a formal agreement with police in which any sexual assault must immediately be reported to the department’s special victims unit for investigation. There is good reason for that practice: Police are trained in how to interrogate suspects and deal with victims who may have been traumatized. It is painful to think how the 14- and 15-year-olds who were attacked in the locker room may have been victimized again by the ham-handed inquiry by school officials. Moreover, their bungling may have impeded the investigation.
Police charged six members of the team in the attack. One case was dropped, and another was resolved in juvenile court. Four cases of boys who had been charged as adults with rape and attempted rape were transferred back to juvenile court and are pending. The secrecy that surrounds juvenile court proceedings means there will be no public airing of what happened and how the charges were investigated.
It’s good that the Post reporters obtained text messages and other information that opened a window into the questionable actions and judgment of school personnel. One detail we can’t let go of is a father finding his son sobbing in bed on Halloween night and having to coax him to recount what happened. It’s infuriating that those charged with that boy’s care seemed more concerned with the football season than getting help.
Montgomery County school system officials said that once criminal proceedings are completed, there will be an independent review of how the Damascus staff responded. Let’s hope there will also be consequences.